Alohi Gilman: Everything ND Thought He Was…And More

(Photo: Matt Cashore, 247Sports)

On a sunny afternoon in Jacksonville on the EverBank Stadium surface where Notre Dame’s 2016 season continued to spiral into the Atlantic Ocean, Brian Kelly learned something very valuable that would come into play – frequently – two years later.

A young kid by the name of Alohi Gilman – a freshman safety for the Naval Academy – played an integral role in the Midshipmen’s 28-27 victory over the Irish, launching a November tailspin that would ultimately devolve into a 4-8 season.

Gilman made 12 tackles, but it was one kind of tackle in particular that caught Kelly’s attention.

“I was well aware of what his abilities were because we played Navy and we thought, ‘A guy that can run the alley and take down Josh Adams one-on-one as a tackler is pretty impressive,’” recalled Kelly.

“So we knew we had an active, athletic, tough football player when we recruited him -- or when he recruited us, I guess you could say. Then it’s just been plugging him into our system.”

Little did Kelly know at the time that the hard-nosed 5-foot-10½, 200-pound safety out of Hawaii would be in the Irish program less than a year later and then begin applying his skills on game day in 2018 after the NCAA denied his request for immediate eligibility in ’17.

It’s been worth the wait.

After Notre Dame’s safeties struggled throughout the 2017 campaign – failing to make an interception and combining for a mere five pass breakups – Gilman, along with junior Jalen Elliott, first-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea and new safeties coach Terry Joseph, has turned the back rung of the Irish defense into a strength.

Gilman and Elliott rank third and fourth on the tackle list with a combined 112. That already exceeds last year’s total between starting safeties Elliott and Nick Coleman – 87 -- with at least three games remaining. They are active and aggressive with Gilman bringing the edge the Irish needed at safety.

Gilman rarely misses an opportunity to remind an opponent that he and his defensive brethren are taking control of the action on the field. He generally engages in a stream of consciousness “conversation” with opponents that looks from a distance to be more like a monologue.

But Gilman’s productivity didn’t come easily. Kelly talks of the spring when Gilman would take a step forward and then a step back as he learned what Lea expected from his defense.

Since locking in, it’s been a steady stream of productivity, like his team-leading 10 stops against Florida State with a couple of quarterback pressures, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup against Florida State.

“He started slowly, quite frankly, in getting used to the system of our defense,” Kelly said. “But once that settled down, he just really started to excel at that position, utilizing a really good sense of playing football.

“He’s got great savvy, and as you can see, he’s a pretty athletic kid.”

Alohi Gilman: Everything ND Thought He Was…And More